NYC Zoning Introduction For Beginners

by | Aug 22, 2019 | New York City, NYC DOB, NYC Zoning

The NYC Zoning Resolution is a set of regulations that govern the use, and bulk (size, shape, etc.) of buildings by dividing the city into specific Zoning Districts. Each Zoning District has a distinct set of rules for building developments and alterations of existing buildings.


NYC Zoning Introduction

The New York City Zoning Resolution is long and convoluted.  Having said that, the following is a brief introduction to the NYC Zoning Codes. This is a high level overview of a few basic concepts. This is meant only to allow you to understand basic concepts. No posts in our blog are a substitution for the NYC Zoning Resolution.


  • Types Of Zoning Districts in NYC
  • Use Groups
  • Bulk


Types Of Zoning Districts in NYC

NYC is broken up into different types of zoning districts. These are:

Types Of Zoning Districts in NYC

  • Commercial
  • Manufacturing
  • Residential
  • Special Purpose Districts
  • Mixed District

NYC Commercial Zoning Districts

Commercial Zoning districts are areas zoned for commercial use. There are regular commercial districts and commercial overlays. In NYC most regular commercial districts have a residential equivalent, where one can develop residential uses.

A commercial overlay is a commercial zoning district within a residential district. These areas are mostly residential but can often have first floor commercial with residential above.

NYC Manufacturing Zoning Districts

Manufacturing Zoning Districts are areas that have industrial uses. You can develop a variety of commercial uses in manufacturing districts as well as manufacturing use. The primary Manufacturing Districts are M1, M2, and M3 with M1 comprising of light manufacturing, and M3 comprising of heavy manufacturing.

NYC Residential Zoning Districts

Residential zoning districts are areas where you can develop residential uses. In cases of residential districts with commercial overlays, you can develop commercial use or mixed use buildings.

Special Zoning Districts

New York City has many Special Zoning Districts. In these areas, the underlying zoning district rules apply, except as modified by the special district requirements.

NYC Mixed Zoning Districts

NYC has some Mixed Zoning Districts where manufacturing and residential zoning both apply. This can be found in parts of Long Island City, for example.


Zoning Use Groups

All types of building uses are broken into different Zoning Use Groups in NYC. Each group has certain uses that are covered by that group. The Zoning Resolution then applies regulations based on use group and illustrates in what zoning district certain uses are allowed. For example, a large department store is commercial use but is not allowed in all commercial zoning districts.


Zoning Bulk 

The NYC Zoning Resolution governs building bulk. This means the size and shape of a building. There are many regulations that will apply to the building bulk but here are a few examples.

Examples of Building Bulk Zoning Regulations

  • Floor Area Ratio
  • Building Height
  • Number Of Stories
  • Sky Exposure Plane
  • Setbacks
  • Yards
  • Open Space Ratio
  • Distance Between Buildings
  • Residential Unit Count


NYC Zoning and the Fontan Architecture Blog Disclaimer

This blog does not substitute the NYC Zoning Resolution. 

The number one phenomenon that has surprised me since I started writing an Architecture Blog is that there are people, amateurs and developers, property owners and architects, who read my blog and base serious development decisions on one of my blog posts. This is ridiculous, unwise, and I strongly advise against it. Anyone who uses my blog as the sole or primary source of their zoning knowledge is greatly misguided.

The point of my blog is not to teach a subject. None of my blog posts cover all the nuance and depth on any topic. My blog is meant to show how complicated these issues are and to make it so an individual can at minimum understand some broad topics and be able to engage in a discussion on the topic. That is it. You will not learn how to do zoning from reading my blog. You will need to hire professionals to help you with your project. I have written hundreds of blog posts on zoning, but to cover the entire breadth of New York City zoning, I would have to write thousands more at least.


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Thank you for reading our blog post on NYC Zoning.

I hope this was helpful. Please leave questions and comments below. If you would like to speak with an architect, you can Contact Fontan Architecture directly.


Jorge Fontan
Jorge Fontan

This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 15 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.